Chang: Why homeschool reform is necessary

State Rep. Stephanie Chang

Most students in homeschool environments do well. Most.

Some are not so fortunate. Some, like Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry, are victims. They are victims of people hiding behind homeschooling. These individuals make their children invisible while they abuse them or escalate the abuse to a higher level.

These individuals give a black eye to the entire homeschool community.

Tragedies like this are why I introduced House Bill 4498. This common sense legislation requires notification be given to the local school district, including the name and age of the child being homeschooled. Michigan is one of only 11 states that do not require a notification of the state or school district that a parent or guardian has chosen to educate her or his child at home. Parents who utilize local school resources as part of their homeschooling including athletics or supplemental classes are already in contact with local schools.

House Bill 4498 requires that a child being homeschooled meet in person with one of many different people including doctors, clergy, and child care providers. To be clear: this legislation does not require a home visit.

Most children should come into contact with some of these professionals already throughout their daily lives. Taking children to the doctor or visiting a place of worship is a common occurrence for most parents. For those hiding the abuse they inflict on their children behind the homeschool system, having someone see their children is one critical check that we can put in place.

This legislation does not attack homeschooling. The goal of the bill is to try to save the lives of invisible children — the ones who need to be seen. I recognize the dedication and hard work of the many homeschooling parents and guardians who do an excellent job. However, Michigan must do better to ensure that every child is accounted for.

Shining a light on abusers, who hide behind homeschooling tarnishing its value, is the only way to expose them. Had someone been required to see Calista Springer in St. Joseph County, or the children of Tim and Karen Sue Tolin in Huron County, their abuse could have been caught much sooner.

My office has heard from homeschooling parents and alumni who enthusiastically support this legislation because they want the responsible home education experience they had to be the reality for every single home school family — no exceptions.

As a state, we cannot continue to give individuals the ability to hide behind homeschooling as a way to keep their secrets hidden. House Bill 4498 is an opportunity for Michigan’s homeschool community to ferret out child abusers who unfairly taint them.

How many more deaths of invisible children will Michigan tolerate before we pass basic measures to protect them?

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, represents the 6th District.